Book Review: “Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador” by Lauren Mackay

25266205The story of King Henry VIII and his six wives has been regaled for centuries in different mediums. We love the marital problems of this one English king because of how much of an impact it made on all of Europe in the 16th century and beyond. Yet our love affair with the Tudor dynasty would not have gotten to the point that it is today without the tireless efforts of the ambassadors who went to England to report the news of the day to their respected kings and emperors. We tend to think that the ambassadors are better left in the shadows, working to promote peace between countries and report what was happening, but one man made a name for himself as an ambassador and transcended time. His name was Eustace Chapuys. His story and his mission are finally being told in Lauren Mackay’s brilliant debut book, “Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador”.

I have heard about this book in the past and how much of an impact it has made in the Tudor community in the past. I have read Lauren Mackay’s two other books and I have enjoyed them thoroughly and so I really wanted to read this book.

To understand the man behind the now-infamous words about the Tudors, especially Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, we have to go back to Chapuys hometown of Annecy. It is here where we see the Chapuys family rise in prominence to the point where Eustace Chapuys was employed by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V as the Spanish Ambassador to England. His main job was to report information back to Charles about the Henirican court as accurately as possible.

Chapuys started his job as ambassador at a critical junction in English history when Henry VIII was in the middle of his divorce from his first wife Katherine of Aragon in 1529. Chapuys admired Katherine of Aragon’s strength and worked tirelessly to protect her daughter Mary. Since Chapuys had a close connection to those who were essential in the Tudor court, he has given historians fabulous insights into these tumultuous times. It was really his relationship with Anne Boleyn which has caused a lot of controversy over the years and has blackened Chapuys’ name for centuries. Mackay has masterfully examined Chapuys’ correspondences to uncover the truth about how he felt about the Tudor court from 1529 until 1545.

You cannot separate Tudor history during the reign of Henry VIII and the works of Eustace Chapuys, which is why this biography and Mackay’s research are so essential in understanding the 16th century. It sheds new light on the stories of Henry VIII and the lives of his six wives; Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr. Chapuys was not afraid to speak his mind and to share the rumors of the day, which gives us significant insight into how the royal family was perceived by their public, both the positive and the negative aspects.

Eustace Chapuys has been one of those ambassadors who we think we know, but do we really? Mackay has rescued the much-maligned messenger of Charles V and restored him to the glory that he so rightfully deserves. Chapuys’ story was hidden in plain sight, but it took an extraordinary historian to bring his story to the spotlight. If you think you know about Eustace Chapuys and the Henrician court, you need to read this sublime biography, “Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador” by Lauren Mackay. It might change how you view the Tudor dynasty.

Book Review: “Elizabeth I’s Last Favourite: Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex” by Sarah-Beth Watkins

56283014A man who was young and had charisma would attract the attention of the Virgin Queen herself, yet that attention came with a price. The young man could not do what he desired and was buried in debt. His anger could not be quenched and he would end up rebelling against the very queen who brought him so much glory and honor. This rebellion would lead to his execution. The man’s name was Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and his story is told in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ latest bite-size biography, “Elizabeth I’s Last Favourite: Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex”.

I would like to thank Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this book. I had heard that Sarah-Beth Watkins was releasing this book around the same time that Tony Riches released his novel about Robert Devereux, so I thought it might be nice to read about this man through fiction and nonfiction.

The son of Walter Devereux and Lettice Knollys, Robert Devereux was destined to his father’s heir when he passed away. However, when Walter died, he left his young heir a mountain of debt. His mother would remarry, but her choice would cause her to be an enemy of the queen herself. Lettice Knollys married Elizabeth I’s most prized favorite at court, Robert Dudley. The legacies that Robert’s mother and father left him forced the penniless earl to think big and to strive to gain the queen’s favor.

His looks helped win the queen’s favor, but Robert wanted more. He wanted power, money, and military prestige, which was typical of an earl during the Tudor time. However, Robert was pretty terrible at being a military leader. No matter if it was in France, Spain, or Ireland, Devereux managed to fail on his missions and irritating the queen. Watkins included transcripts of poems and letters that Devereux and Elizabeth I exchanged and you can feel the anger and frustration centuries later. Devereux comes off as a spoiled brat who whined when he didn’t get his way and Elizabeth just continued to exasperate him.

Devereux would redeem himself slightly when he uncovered a plot by Elizabeth’s doctor Lopez to assassinate the queen with poison. Yet for the most part, the queen was almost always upset with the young man, which made him act recklessly. Although he did marry the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham, he was known to have a few mistresses and illegitimate children on the side. When he was really upset with the queen, he would break into her chamber or he would sulk at home feigning illness until she would beg for him to come back to court. This was his routine until he was pushed over the edge and would stage a rebellion against the woman who raised him so high, ultimately leading to his own demise.

.Robert Devereux was the moody last favorite of Elizabeth I who depended too heavily on her influence to guide his life choices. Watkins does a very good job at portraying Devereux’s numerous attempts to change his fate and how he failed miserably. The length of this biography was reasonable and it did allow readers to get to know the truth about the young man who would be the final favorite. If you want a short biography about the man behind the Essex Rebellion, you should check out, “Elizabeth I’s Last Favourite: Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex” by Sarah-Beth Watkins.

Book Review: “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” by Rose Sgueglia

57165143A man ahead of his time who never finished the tasks that he was given as his mind was constantly racing, thinking of new ideas. This is what we consider a genius or a Renaissance Man today, but during Leonardo da Vinci’s time, it was just considered odd. Leonardo da Vinci was an enigma. He could make the impossible possible. His art seemed to leap off the canvas with its realism. However, there are still so many mysteries surrounding his life and his works. What made this one artist/inventor so fascinating for centuries? In her book, “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” Rose Sgueglia opens the curtain to reveal Leonardo da Vinci’s truth and inner circle.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I am one of those people who is familiar with da Vinci’s works, but not so much with his actual life and what made him tick. I have always wanted to read biographies about the great artists of the Renaissance, but I didn’t know where to start. This was the perfect book to start my journey into art history.

To understand da Vinci’s lifestyle later in life, we have to understand his origins. His mother was an absent figure in his life as Leonardo was her illegitimate son, but his father seemed to have taken care of him. Leonardo was trained under Verrocchio where he would learn the skills that would be vital for his art career, however, it was his insatiable appetite for exploring new subjects that would make him a polymath to many.

Sgueglia dives into the intricacies of da Vinci’s life, including his love life which has been debated for centuries. As an illegitimate son, he was not tied down to one location so he frequently traveled and would be employed by some of the greatest families in Italy, including the Borgias, the Medicis, and Ludovico Sforza. Along the way, he would create his own following of artists that were loyal to him until the bitter end. Da Vinci would also encounter fellow masters Donatello and Michelangelo as he competed for commissions.

I think Sgueglia does a decent job introducing the Leonardo da Vinci that she has gotten to know through her research. She also included interviews between her and a researcher of the Mona Lisa as well as the director of a movie about Leonardo da Vinci within this book, which I found fascinating. I think it is these interviews and including the transcripts as part of the book that sets it apart from other biographies about Leonardo da Vinci.

There were a few things about this book that I found a bit off or lacking. My big concern was the lack of illustrations of his lesser-known pieces of art and the artwork of other artists that Sgueglia references. If this is a biography about a well-known artist and inventor, then let’s celebrate the masterpieces and the inventions. I had to find the obscure artworks online while I was reading to act as a companion to get the full impact of what she was writing about. I also think it was a tad repetitive and I would have personally liked to have seen more books in the bibliography for research purposes.

Overall, I found this book was an adequate biography about Leonardo da Vinci. It is easy to read with intriguing facts that will captivate those who are new to da Vinci’s story. There is something intriguing about looking at the man behind these masterpieces and I think Sgueglia does an excellent job of showing a unique side of this artist’s life. If you want a great book that will introduce you to this polymath’s life and times, I recommend you read, “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” by Rose Sgueglia.

Book Review: “The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and Her Greatest Rival” by Kate Williams

40554521Two cousins fighting for the right to rule England during the 16th century. One was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn who fought tooth and nail to rule without a man by her side. The other was the daughter of Mary of Guise and King James V of Scotland whose marriage record would prove to be fatal. Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, may have been sister queens, but the way they were treated in their own countries differed completely. While Elizabeth I was praised and protected from harm in England, Mary was a scapegoat for so many in Scotland. The way that Mary was used as a pawn even though she wore a crown was nothing short of extraordinary. The story of how these two queens came on a collision course that would leave one queen beheaded and the other forever changed has been told in many different ways from both sides of the tale, but it has rarely been told as a cohesive nonfiction book. That is until Kate Williams’ marvelous biography, “The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and Her Greatest Rival”.

Before we get to the part of the tale that many Tudor fans know very well, the end of the tale, we must understand what shaped Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots to be the queens of England and Scotland respectfully. As someone who knows quite a bit about Elizabeth I’s story, I found Williams’ explanation of her childhood informative and relatively brief.

Williams chooses to focus on the much-maligned Mary, Queen of Scots. We tend to assume that Mary’s life as a pawn with a crown began after her first husband, King Francis II of France, tragically died and she had to go back to her native Scotland. However, Mary was a pawn in someone else’s game her entire life. The only man that Mary loved and who loved her back was Francis. Her other relationships with Darnley and Bothwell were trainwrecks that would cause Mary immense pain and sorrow. Bothwell was the epitome of a disastrous relationship that was doomed to ruin Mary’s life. The two people who Mary thought she could depend on, Elizabeth I and Mary’s own son King James VI, ultimately chose to save face than to help protect a queen who had nowhere else to go.

I will be honest and say that before I read this book, I felt that Mary was the villainess of Tudor propaganda. She, after all, was wanting to dethrone Elizabeth I so that she could become the Catholic Queen of England. I have always been someone who has been a big fan of the reign of Elizabeth I, so I assumed that I would not be a fan of Mary, Queen of Scots. However, that all changed after reading this book. To see Mary put her faith and trust into those who she thought had her best interest at heart and to be betrayed every single time was utterly heartbreaking.

This is a gorgeously written biography of Mary, Queen of Scots that shows Mary in a sympathetic light while portraying how cataclysmic the numerous betrayals she endured affected her life. It was my first time reading a biography about Mary, Queen of Scots, or a book by Kate Williams, and I have to say it is one of my favorite biographies that I have read so far this year. I did not want to stop reading this biography. It made me feel so sympathetic towards Mary and her plight. If you want an exceptional biography about Mary, Queen of Scots, “The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth I and Her Greatest Rival” by Kate Williams is a must to have in your collection.

Book Review: “The Red Prince: The Life of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster” by Helen Carr

55710502When one studies the history of the English monarchy, we tend to consider those who ruled and those who advised the ruler as significant characters. We rarely study the family members of the monarch who did not win the right to rule the kingdom. Yet, they are often either extremely loyal or they desire the crown with such ferocity that they rebel against their own family. It seems like a rather cruel world, but that was the life of a medieval monarch. True loyalty for one’s family was a rare feat. One man showed the depth of his loyalty to his family, even when the people despised him. He was the son of King Edward III, the brother of the famous Black Prince, the uncle of King Richard II, and the father of Henry Bolingbroke who would become King Henry IV. Gaunt’s reputation and legacy have been marred by his wealth and the role that he played with the Peasants’ Revolt, but was he such a bad person? In Helen Carr’s brilliant debut biography, “The Red Prince: The Life of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster”, she looks to uncover the truth about the man behind the throne and why he never desired the crown for himself.

Carr has chosen to call John of Gaunt “The Red Prince”, which makes a lot of sense for someone who understands the significance of his legacy in history. His son by his first wife Blanche of Lancaster, King Henry IV, was the first Lancastrian King of England. Obviously, they were represented by the red rose in the rather poetic sounding Wars of the Roses in the 15th century and their half-siblings, the Beauforts (who were descended from the children of John’s third wife and former mistress Katherine Swynford) would continue the legacy in their own way. There would be no Lancastrian Kings of England or Wars of the Roses or Tudor dynasty without John of Gaunt.

I am getting a little ahead of myself. After all, during John of Gaunt’s lifetime, none of this happened. He was just the son of Edward III and the brother of the Black Prince when he earned the title of the first Duke of Lancaster. He earned his reputation as a loyal soldier fighting alongside his brother and father in the conflict with France that would be known in history as the Hundred Years’ War. His loyalty to his brother and father and his bravery as a knight was legendary. He gained vast amounts of wealth from his marriages to Blanche of Lancaster and Constance of Castile. He was a patron of the arts, especially to Geoffrey Chaucer, and championed those who wanted to challenge the way religion was understood during the 14th century.

He had everything he could ever want until his world came crashing down around him. The Black Prince died of illness and his father King Edward III would soon follow, leaving the throne to his nephew King Richard II. To say things got off to a rocky start would be an understatement as John of Gaunt and other government officials were accused of raising taxes so high that it triggered what we know as the Peasants’ Revolt. On top of all of the problems in England, John of Gaunt decided to become King of Castile with his wife Constance. John of Gaunt led a life full of adventure, risks, and above all, loyalty to his family.

Carr does a magnificent job of bringing Gaunt’s life into focus. So much of his reputation has been tainted over time, but Carr did not shy away from the challenge. This is one of the best biographies that I have read this year so far. John of Gaunt deserved to have his story retold and Helen Carr was the perfect historian to tell his story for a newer generation. Carr’s writing style is engaging with meticulous attention to detail. This is a gorgeous debut biography and I cannot wait to see what Helen Carr will write next. If you want to read a biography about the founder of the Lancastrian dynasty, “The Red Prince: The Life of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster” by Helen Carr is a must-read.

Book Review: “Elizabeth I’s Secret Lover: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester” by Robert Stedall

52718070._SX318_The last Tudor monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, was known for many things, but her main legacy is that she never chose to marry anyone. She was the infamous “Virgin Queen”. However, there were those around her who manage to capture her attention and her admiration for a time. The most famous of these men was Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. He was a massive supporter of the arts and the Protestant faith, gaining prestige and praise from his highly exalted monarch. Yet, his life and his relationship with his wives, his enemies, and Elizabeth I was full of dangers and numerous scandals. Who was this man who wooed the heart of the most eligible woman in all of 16th century Europe? Robert Stedall investigates the relationship between these two lovers destined to never marry each other in, “Elizabeth I’s Secret Lover: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester”.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I am always interested in learning new aspects about the reign of Elizabeth I and her love life. When I saw the cover, I was instantly drawn to it and I wanted to know more about Elizabeth and Robert.

Stedall begins his biography by exploring the reigns of Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, and Mary I to show how the Dudleys came to power and how they fell out of power. I noticed that Stedall included Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley in the family trees that he provided at the beginning of the book, but their death years are different, even though they both died in 1554 on the same day. I think that it was interesting to see how the fall of the Dudleys affected Robert and how it was truly through Elizabeth’s favor that they gained back their honor. This friendship between Elizabeth and Robert gradually developed into love, although it was quite taboo. Robert was Elizabeth’s Master of the Horse and he was already married to Amy Robsart. Even after Amy’s untimely death, Elizabeth and Robert could never be together as a couple because her council, especially Cecil, wanted her to marry a great European power to create a strong alliance, which was a reasonable request.

Sadly, Robert Dudley could not wait forever for Elizabeth, so he chose to marry again, this time to Lettice Knollys. To say Elizabeth was upset about this marriage would be an understatement. Even though she could never marry Robert, it did not mean she wanted another woman to marry him. Robert remained faithful to his queen as a military officer and a patron of the arts and building projects. It is impossible to discuss the Elizabethan Age without mentioning the contributions of Lord Robert Dudley.

I think Stedall has done his research very well. However, this book is a tad too dry for my taste. I was hoping to learn some new swoon-worthy facts about this notorious romance, but Stedall’s book was a bit too analytical for this to happen. It was a struggle for me to read this book as it took me a few weeks to finish it. With a title such as the one he provided, I was hoping for new romantic facts, but it fell flat for me.

Overall, I felt like this was a well-researched biography, but it fell flat on the delivery. I think if you are being introduced to the relationship of Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, this is a decent introduction, but if you know the story, it might not be the best book to read. If you want to learn more about Robert Dudley and his influence in the Elizabethan court, check out, “Elizabeth I’s Secret Lover: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester” by Robert Stedall.

Book Review: “Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey” by Nicola Tallis

39330966._SY475_“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” This famous quote from William Shakespeare’s play Henry IV, Part III has been used throughout the centuries to describe how difficult it is to rule a country for any duration of time. Most kings and queens of the past lasted for a few years, but there was one queen who lasted for a handful of days. She was the successor of Henry VIII’s only male son, King Edward VI, and was meant to replace his eldest half-sister, who would become Queen Mary I. It was a battle between Protestantism and Catholicism with a 17-year-old scholar caught in the middle. Her name was Lady Jane Grey, but many refer to her as the “Nine Day Queen of England”. Lady Jane Grey’s tragically short story, how she became queen, and the consequences of her reign are discussed thoroughly in Nicola Tallis’ beautifully written debut biography, “Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey”.

I have been a fan of Nicola Tallis’ other biographies, “Uncrowned Queen: The Fateful Life of Margaret Beaufort, Tudor Monarch” and “Elizabeth’s Rival: The Tumultuous Life of the Countess of Leicester: The Romance and Conspiracy that Threatened Queen Elizabeth’s Court”. I had heard about this one through recommendations from other Tudor history fans, so naturally, I wanted to give it a try. Lady Jane Grey has been one of those historical figures that I have felt sympathy for in the past and I wanted to learn more about her life.

Lady Jane Grey was born into a royal family full of fighting for the throne of England and for the right to either be Protestant or Catholic. She was the eldest daughter of Henry and Frances Grey. It was through her mother Frances that Jane had a claim to the throne because Frances Grey was the daughter of Mary Tudor, the younger sister of Henry VIII, and Charles Brandon. If Frances and Henry Grey had sons, we would not have to talk about Jane’s claim to the throne, but Jane had two sisters, Katherine and Mary Grey. Jane was a rather unusual royal girl because she was not concerned about who she would one day marry. Lady Jane Grey has been known throughout history as a young scholar and a martyr for Protestantism. Her zeal for learning is so admirable and relatable. It makes you really wonder what her life might have been like if she had not been coerced to become Queen of England.

Unfortunately, on his deathbed Jane’s cousin King Edward VI declared that Lady Jane Grey would be his heir, not his eldest half-sister Mary, who his father had named as Edward’s heir if Edward had no children of his own. Jane never coveted the throne, but her father-in-law, John Dudley 1st Duke of Northumberland saw the opportunity to make his son Guildford king of England. It was not the role that Jane wanted in her life, but she was outspoken and courageous about things that mattered to her, even as she approached the scaffold that would seal her fate on earth.

Tallis’ writing style and her attention to detail brought Jane out of the shadows to uncover the truth behind the myths that surrounded her young life. This biography could have easily become a Mary vs. Jane book, but Tallis took the utmost care to make sure it was balanced for both women. It was dynamic and thoughtful, full of drama and revelations of the life of Lady Jane Grey. In short, it is a magnificent biography of one of the Tudor monarchs whose reign was quickly forgotten. Jane may have been a scholar, a lady, and a martyr, but she should also be remembered for another position she held in life. Jane was a Queen of England. If you want a stunning biography about Lady Jane Grey, I highly suggest you read, “Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey” by Nicola Tallis.

Book Review: “Young and Damned and Fair: The Life and Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court of Henry VIII” by Gareth Russell

55728291._SY475_Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived. For those who study Tudor history, we have heard this unimaginative rhyme to refer to the wives of Henry VIII for the longest time. We all know the stories of the queens, especially Anne Boleyn, but the fifth wife and the second one to be beheaded tend to be cast aside for some of the more intriguing tales. Her name was Catherine Howard, Henry’s youngest bride. Her story is full of rumors and myths, just like her cousin Anne Boleyn. Most know of her romantic dalliances that, in the end, led to her demise, but what was her reign like as queen? What was the court of Henry VIII like during his fifth marriage as his health was failing? In Gareth Russell’s brilliant biography, “Young and Damned and Fair: The Life and Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court of Henry VIII”, he dives deep into the archives to shine a light on the life of this tragic and young queen.

I would like to thank everyone who has recommended that I read this biography for years now. I have heard the praises about this book and I have enjoyed reading posts by Gareth Russell so I decided that it was about time that I read the book that put him on the map for so many Tudor history fans.

Russell begins his exploration into Catherine’s life with an execution and a wedding. The person being executed on July 28, 1540, was Henry VIII’s former right-hand man Thomas Cromwell and the bride is Catherine Howard. The duality of this first chapter is stunning, showing how favor in Henry VIII’s court was like a wheel constantly turning. A person’s fate was always in the hands of the king. To understand how Catherine caught the roving eye of the ailing king, Russell takes his readers on a journey into her past to show how this young lady made it into the glamorous Tudor court. We all have an idea of what life must have been like for Catherine in her grandmother’s, Agnes Tilney dowager Duchess of Norfolk, household. However, as Russell explains, Catherine’s life and her early romances with Henry Manox and Francis Dereham were not like how it has been portrayed in novels about her life.

Catherine’s life took a dramatic turn when she is chosen to be one of the ladies in waiting for Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. This relationship does not last long and Henry casts his eyes upon Catherine and she becomes his fifth wife. However, while at court, Catherine falls in love with the charming Thomas Culpepper. Russell goes further than any other author has in the past to explore the different aspects of Catherine’s reign as queen consort. He explores her household, how she viewed religious issues and political issues that impacted Tudor England during this time. Finally, Russell explores the downfall, the trial, and the execution of Catherine Howard and how her foolish decisions cost her everything.

The way Russell combined his easy to read style of writing with scrupulous attention to detail to create such a vivid account of Catherine Howard’s tragic life is magnificent. It felt as if you could visualize the events as they happened in the Henrician court. Before I read this account, I felt no sympathy for Catherine’s demise, but this beautiful biography changed my view on her life. If you want a hauntingly beautiful biography about the life of Henry VIII’s fifth wife Catherine Howard, you must read, “Young and Damned and Fair: The Life and Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court of Henry VIII” by Gareth Russell.

Book Review: “Bohemond of Taranto: Crusader and Conqueror” by Georgios Theotokis

The Crusades have been recently examined as a whole or by individual Crusades to show the significance of these wars and why the Crusaders fought. It is only the main Crusaders, the leaders, whose names and legacies are remembered to this day. One such man was a Norman who was considered the unofficial leader of the First Crusade, Bohemond of Taranto. Bohemond was a true warrior who fought numerous enemies, including the Byzantine emperor Alexios Komnenos, and would become the Lord of Antioch. His deeds would earn him praise from his allies and ire from his enemies. The impact that Bohemond of Taranto left on the First Crusade cannot be underestimated, especially when it came to the military strategies that he employed to secure his numerous victories. In Georgios Theotokis’ latest biography, “Bohemond of Taranto: Crusader and Conqueror”, he explores the life of this legendary man with a particular focus on his military prowess to better understand his legacy.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I was not familiar with Bohemond of Taranto and his story so I was keen to learn more about him and the First Crusade.

Bohemond of Taranto was the son of Robert Guiscard and his first wife Alberada of Buonalbergo, but when their marriage was annulled due to consanguinity, Bohemond was declared a bastard. Although he was viewed as illegitimate in the eyes of the church, Robert still treated Bohemond as an equal, especially when it came to military ventures. Under Robert’s tutelage, Bohemond cultivated the strategic skills that would be essential in his conquests of land in Italy, Sicily, the Balkans, and Anatolia. Along the way, Bohemond would become frenemies with the power Byzantine emperor Alexios Komnenos. The interactions between the two men were recorded in the Alexiad, which was written by Alexios’ daughter Anna Komnene; she was not the biggest fan of Bohemond, but Theotokis relies on her work heavily throughout this biography.

It was not just international foes that Bohemond had to deal with as there was a succession battle between him and his brother Roger Borsa for control over their father’s land. On top of all of this, Bohemond of Taranto and his uncle Roger I of Sicily were asked to lead the First Crusade that was declared by Pope Urban II to reclaim the Holy Land. Along the way, Bohemond made the difficult decision to pay homage to Alexios Komnenos, which would prove beneficial up to a point. It was during this time that Bohemond and his Norman army helped capture Antioch for the crusaders and Bohemond was declared Lord of Antioch. While Bohemond was away conquering other cities, his nephew Tancred of Hauteville was his regent in Antioch.

I think Theotokis does an excellent job of showing the military strategies that made Bohemond such a dynamic leader. I found this account extremely fascinating and eye-opening on what one leader could do in a few decades. The one problem that I had with this biography was the fact that there were so many names of leaders and places that I had never heard of that I was getting a bit confused. I wish Theotokis had included a list of important names and places with a quick blurb about their significance in the front of the book to help the First Crusade novices such as myself. Overall, I think this is was a very well written and researched biography. If you want a solid biography about one of the leaders of the First Crusade, check out, “Bohemond of Taranto: Crusader and Conqueror” by Georgios Theotokis.

Book Review: “Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland- Politician, Reformer, and Conspirator” by Robert Stedall

One of the most dynamic queens in 16th century Europe who spent most of her youth in a country that was not her homeland, but was fighting for the right to rule England. Her name was Mary Queen of Scots, the cousin of Queen Elizabeth I. Many know of her tragic tale, but there was a man who was behind the scenes trying to guide Scotland to a brighter future. He was not married to Mary Queen of Scots, but he was influential in her life and choosing who she might marry and who she would end up divorcing. He was a politician and a religious reformer whose decisions would alter history dramatically. His name was William Maitland and he served as Mary’s secretary. He is always mentioned as a footnote in history, until now. Robert Stedall’s latest biography, “Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland- Politician, Reformer, and Conspirator”, explores the life and legacy of this rather extraordinary secretary.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. When I saw this book, I was intrigued since I had never heard of William Maitland, except in footnotes in books about Mary Queen of Scots that I have read in the past. I wanted to know more about the man who knew Mary so well and helped her with such significant decisions in her life.

After Mary Queen of Scots’ first husband, Francis II of France passed away at a young age, she made the journey back to the country of her birth, Scotland, where she was introduced to William Maitland. As a Protestant reformer, he believed that the best thing for the country and the Scottish Reformation would be to break the Auld Alliance with France and to gain closer ties with England. Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley, is less than agreeable to Maitland, so he and others help plot his murder. This decision led to Mary’s imprisonment and the succession of her son James as king.

Stedall’s whole premise revolves around the idea that Maitland helped plan Darnley’s murder. I do have a few problems with this book. First, for a biography that should revolve around Maitland, it felt like Maitland was more of a background character to Mary’s story. Second, the case that he lays out for Maitland being involved in the murder revolves around the validity of the infamous Casket Letters, which many believe are forgeries and have disappeared. It is hard to prove a case when the evidence in question may have been forgeries and are lost to history. Finally, I felt like Stedall’s writing style was a bit dry for my personal taste. I know that this was supposed to be academic in nature, with the focus on the political and religious nature of Maitland’s life, but it just fell flat to me.

Overall, I felt like this book was okay. It may have shown how the political and religious divides influenced the decisions of Mary Queen of Scots’ reign, but it needed a stronger focus on William Maitland. I feel like Stedall has a passion for this period of Scottish history and he has done his research, but he needed to rein it in a bit more. I think if you enjoy reading about Mary Queen of Scots, “Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary: William Maitland- Politician, Reformer and Conspirator” by Robert Stedall might be a book you should check out.